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Sustainable living has become a necessity today says Anu Agarwal of Ekotribe, a business supplying eco-friendly products and services in the Middle-East.
Interview by Anne John
Soaring temperatures, over-worked air conditioners, availability of cheap fuel, lack of awareness – just a few factors responsible for the Middle-East’s infamous high carbon footprint. Launched in 2009 in the UAE, Ekotribe has become well-known for promoting sustainable living in the region. Anu Agarwal, Chief of Ekotribe talks to us about the journey so far.
Anne John (AJ): What was the motivation to start Ekotribe?
Anu Agarwal (AA): Over the past 6 – 8 years, I increasingly found that we have so much wastage in urban societies. Wastage in plastic bottles, aluminium cans, water, food – everything. We are a “Use and throw” society. Also, my travels have taken me to all parts of the world and I realized we have such a beautiful planet and all we are doing is plundering it! Lastly, the increasing problems of climate change are for all of us to see – increasing hurricanes, extreme temperatures, pollution etc. We all have to start changing our lifestyles in small ways and I thought of doing my part.
All this got me thinking and I started looking to find greener alternatives for my everyday products. I found not much was available in the UAE. I started visiting trade shows in the US and realized that there is a whole range of eco-friendly options out there. We just haven’t seen them in the UAE. I felt that there was a huge opportunity here to bring eco-friendly options into this region…… and Ekotribe was formed.
AJ: Tell us more about the work you do. How does Ekotribe promote green living? What services do you offer?
AA: Ekotribe promotes green living by sourcing green and sustainable products and bringing them to this region. We cater to the wholesale market/corporates and The Green Ecostore handles the retail/individual customer needs. Ekotribe is a distribution and marketing division. We sell wholesale to retailers & corporates across the UAE, Saudi, Qatar and the region. Our range of products covers items for the family, kitchen, home, office and garden. Our customers are guaranteed products which are easily absorbed into the ecosystem, without compromising on design or quality. We offer high quality products that are either – biodegradable, environmentally safe, handmade, natural, recycled, recyclable, reusable, sustainable or organic. We support environmentally friendly manufacturers and designers.
Ekotribe also offers green consultancy services to offices, though in a limited way. We provide consulting services on how to have a greener office, greener school environment etc. However, we are concentrating more on products initially. But we hope to increase our range of consulting services in the future.
AJ: The UAE isn’t particularly well-known for being eco-friendly. How well was your idea received by customers?
AA: Most people are extremely excited to find eco products finally available in the UAE. They need to be educated and explained on the benefits and thereafter, the demand increases automatically. I find a lot of UAE residents are becoming very conscious of the need to use greener products and they prefer eco options for their families.
What is very encouraging is that most large corporates now prefer giving eco items as gifts rather than the standard T Shirt, cap or keychain. I get specific requests for “only eco options”.
My customers are predominantly Westerners (male and female) and Arab women. I am amazed at the conscious effort made by Arab women to try and go green!
AJ: From where do you source your products? How do you ascertain how eco-friendly they are?
AA: We source our products from all over the world, ie: US, Australia, Canada, UK, China and India.
We select our range of products and partners based on the following criteria: Does the company test on animals?, Does this ‘green’ product use more resources than its ‘non-green’ counterpart?, Does the parent company make efforts to reduce waste and recycle in their facilities?, Can the product be reused, composted, or recycled once its life is finished?, What’s the environmental impact during the manufacturing process?, How much packaging is used for this product? Lastly, Is the packaging recycled or sustainable?
A whole step-by-step process is involved in choosing which products we market and add to our range.
AJ: What are the most popular products at your eco-store? And what are your personal favourites?
AA: Our bestsellers are the KeepCup, SnackTAXI sandwich bags, bhappy tote bags, Shains Kids Bracelets, USBCell rechargeable batteries and the entire range of Water Bottles. My favourites are the Envirosax bags and the KeepCup reusable coffee cups. I use them on a daily basis.
AJ: Being a start-up what challenges did you face? Did you have to face any challenges being an expat?
AA: I think my biggest challenge was educating the customer! Once they see the products and realize the benefits, they buy them! Luckily, the UAE government is very involved and aware of the need to go green and that has given a huge boost to us. The constant coverage in the media has also made the public very aware of the need to live a greener lifestyle.
As an expat, I find no limitation or challenge working in the UAE. In fact, the UAE government departments in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have been one of my biggest customers to date!
AJ: What has been the most valuable lesson that you have learnt over the past few years?
AA: My biggest lesson is you have to grow slowly and steadily. Rome was not built in one day! You must be passionate about what you are doing and offer good quality products and excellent customer service.
AJ: What are your future plans for Ekotribe?
AA: Very soon, we will launch a retail store. Plans are being finalized. And in the next few years, I plan to start manufacturing my own range of products!
*Photo credit: www.vectorportal.com (Used uner the Creative Commons Attribution License)
Anne John plays with words for a living and would probably do the same even
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